CIA’s Torturous Maneuvers on Torture

Exclusive: The CIA is fighting congressional demands to release a report on its covert program for torturing “war on terror” suspects, even as the spy agency contemplates a reorganization that could give the covert-action side more ways to bend the truth, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

“CIA may revamp how it is organized” announced a front-page Washington Post headline leading into an article based on remarks by unnamed “U.S intelligence officials” to the Post’s Greg Miller. The anonymous officials were authorized to share some of the contents of a Sept. 24 letter from CIA Director John Brennan to CIA staff, in which Brennan says, “The time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized as an agency.”

On Brennan’s orders, senior agency officials were put to work on what Miller reported would be “among the most ambitious [reorganizations] in CIA history.” But Miller’s sources emphasized that the activity was in its preliminary stages and that no final decisions had been made; the proposed changes might be scaled back or even discarded.

CIA Director John Brennan at a White House meeting during his time as President Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser.

CIA Director John Brennan at a White House meeting during his time as President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

But the reorganization story on Thursday with its suggestion of CIA “reform” came at an opportune time to possibly distract attention from another behind-the-scenes battle that is raging over how and indeed whether to release the findings of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the CIA’s use of torture during George W. Bush’s administration and how the agency lied to Congress about the efficacy of torture techniques and their humaneness.

A New York Times article on Friday by Mark Mazzetti and Carl Hulse described a Donnybrook at the White House on Thursday, with Senate Democrats accusing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough of acquiescing in CIA attempts to redact the report so thoroughly that its conclusions would be undermined.

The Democratic members of the Senate intelligence Committee are said to be in high dudgeon. But some may have mixed feelings about release of the report because it would surely reflect poorly on their own failures as congressional “overseers” of the CIA.

Recent press reporting would have us believe that the main bone of contention revolves around if and how to use pseudonyms of CIA officers involved in torture, though that seems implausible since there are obvious workarounds to that concern. In past cases, for instance the Iran-Contra report, numbers were used to conceal actual identities of entities that were deemed to need protection.

Ex-CIA General Counsel Spilled the Beans

Hat tip to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who took the trouble to read the play-by-play of testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by former CIA General Counsel (2009-2013) Stephen W. Preston, nominated (and now confirmed) to be general counsel at the Department of Defense.

Under questioning by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, Preston admitted outright that, contrary to the CIA’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the committee included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”

That “inaccurate information” apparently is thoroughly documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, which, largely because of the CIA’s imaginative foot-dragging, cost taxpayers $40 million. Udall has revealed that the report (which includes 35,000 footnotes) contains a very long section titled “C.I.A. Representations on the C.I.A. Interrogation Program and the Effectiveness of the C.I.A.’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Congress.”

Preston also acknowledged that the CIA inadequately informed the Justice Department on interrogation and detention. He said, “CIA’s efforts fell well short of our current practices when it comes to providing information relevant to [the Office of Legal Counsel]’s legal analysis.”

As Katherine Hawkins, the senior investigator for last April’s bipartisan, independent report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, noted in an Oct. 18, 2013 posting, the memos from acting OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, relied very heavily on now-discredited CIA claims that “enhanced interrogation” saved lives, and that the sessions were carefully monitored by medical and psychological personnel to ensure that detainees’ suffering would not rise to the level of torture.

There’s more. According to the Constitution Project’s Hawkins, Udall complained and Preston admitted that, in providing the materials requested by the committee, “the CIA removed several thousand CIA documents that the agency thought could be subjected to executive privilege claims by the President, without any decision by [Barack] Obama to invoke the privilege.”

Worse still for the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently destroys the agency’s argument justifying torture on the grounds that there was no other way to acquire the needed information save through brutalization. In his answers to Udall, Preston concedes that, contrary to what the agency has argued, it can and has been established that legal methods of
interrogation would have yielded the same intelligence.

Sen. Udall has been persistent in trying to elicit the truth about CIA torture, but has failed. Now that he has lost his Senate seat in the November elections, he has the opportunity to do what Sen. Feinstein is too afraid to do invoke a senator’s Constitutional right to immunity by taking advantage of the “speech or debate clause” to read the torture report findings into the record, a tactic used most famously by Sen. Mike Gravel in 1971 when he publicly read portions of the Pentagon Papers.

Sen. Udall has said he would consider doing something along those lines with the torture report, and that is precisely what is needed at this point. It remains to be seen whether Udall will rise to the occasion or yield to the fear of ostracism from the Establishment.

A Terrible Idea

One of the issues to be addressed by the reorganization group that Brennan has set up reportedly is whether or not the agency should be restructured into subject matter divisions in which analysts and clandestine operators work together.

There are far more minuses than plusses in that kind of structure. Greg Miller cites the concerns expressed by his sources over the potential for analysts’ judgments to be clouded by working too closely with the operators. Miller quotes one officer who worked in the Counter-Terrorism Center, which is being cited as the template for reorganizing the rest of the CIA.

The former CTC officer speaking from personal experience said, “The potential for corruption is much greater if you have analysts directly involved in helping to guide operations. There is the possibility for them to get too close to the issue and to be too focused on trying to achieve a certain outcome.” Like targeting/killing suspected “militants” by Hellfire missiles from drones, rather than pausing long enough to try to discern what has made them “militants” in the first place and whether killing them is a major fillip to recruitment of more and more “militants.”

Or take Iran, for example. If the leaders of a new Iran “issues center” are focused on sabotaging Tehran’s nuclear development program, how much visibility will be given to analysts who are trying to discern whether there is enough evidence to conclude that Iran is actually working toward a nuclear weapon.

As some may recall, in November 2007 an honest National Intelligence Estimate concluded unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier in the fall of 2003 and had not resumed work on a nuclear warhead.

The importance of such independent analysis cannot be overestimated. In that particular case, the Estimate played a huge role in preventing the war with Iran planned by Bush and Cheney for their last year in office. Read what Bush himself writes in his Decision Points about how that “eye-popping” NIE deprived him of the military option:

“But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)

Split the CIA in Two

There are examples galore of the important value of keeping analysts free from leaders and pressures more in favor of operations than cogent intelligence analysis. Indeed, there is a strong argument to split the CIA in half and let the covert operations part, which President Harry Truman said he never intended to be joined with the analysis part of the agency, go its own way

The Defense Department and Air Force can surely find extra chairs for those CIA killing-by-drone aficionados not already at the Pentagon. And “regime change” specialists could likely find space with others engaged in similar work at the National Endowment for Democracy or the State Department.

It is of transcendent importance to insulate the serious analysts from politically motivated managers and directors or other easy-to-manipulate bureaucrats who are enmeshed in covert operations. Harry Truman, who established the CIA, had very strong thoughts about this for very good reason.

Truman’s Edict

On Dec. 22, 1963, exactly one month after President John Kennedy was assassinated, former President Truman published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The timing was no coincidence. Documents in the Truman library show that nine days after Kennedy was murdered, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say.

The op-ed itself reflected Truman’s concern that he had inadvertently helped create a Frankenstein monster, lamenting that the agency had “become removed from its intended role. … It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government.” Truman complained that the CIA was shaping policy through its control of intelligence and “cloak and dagger” operations.

Truman appealed for the agency to be “restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President … and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”

Five days after Truman’s op-ed appeared, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman has appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter blaming former CIA Director Allen Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than the one I tried to set up for you.”

Souers was particularly sour on Dulles’s attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ by invading Cuba with a handful of men and no air cover.” He also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into arranging “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” adding, “With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”

Souers and Truman both felt that the CIA’s operational tail had been wagging the analytical dog a serious problem that persists today.

Five years ago, on the anniversary of Truman’s Washington Post op-ed, I posted a piece titled “Break the CIA in Two,” demonstrating that it is indeed time that the agency’s operational duties be, as Truman had suggested, “terminated or properly used elsewhere.” In another piece, posted on the 50th anniversary of Truman’s prescient op-ed, I went into more detail not only on Truman’s article, but also on fresh signs of corruption and lying to Congress on the part of senior CIA officials.

The coin of the realm in intelligence analysis is truth and the trust that comes of consistently speaking truth to power. For intelligence analysts to have a decent chance at being taken seriously, there has to be some space between them and the self-licking ice cream cone of covert action.

Surely, there is no better way to create a steadily increasing supply of jihadists than by ignoring clear-headed analysis about why young Muslims are angry enough to strap bombs to themselves and instead dreaming up new covert operations that will have that inevitable effect of creating more jihadists.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a 30-year veteran of the CIA and Army intelligence and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). McGovern served for considerable periods in all four of CIA’s main directorates.

14 comments for “CIA’s Torturous Maneuvers on Torture

  1. Thomas....
    November 23, 2014 at 10:43

    So many compellng comments….. leave me comment-less…..

  2. JWalters
    November 21, 2014 at 20:31

    The current “War on Terror” does deserve a major focus. It’s origins are described in “War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror” at
    for readers who haven’t seen it yet.

    It’s no accident that the major conflicts in this manufactured war revolve around Israel and its Neocon agents in the U.S.

  3. Abe
    November 21, 2014 at 19:30

    Ray f&@%ing said it here:

    Former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern: Obama Fears the CIA

    James W. Douglass in JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2008) discusses the John F. Kennedy assassination as a conspiracy ordered by unknown parties and carried out by the CIA with help from the Mafia and elements in the FBI to put an end to Kennedy’s effort to end the Cold War after the Cuban missile crisis.

    • Abe
      November 21, 2014 at 19:32

      JFK, Obama and the Unspeakable
      By Jim Douglass

    • JWalters
      November 21, 2014 at 20:44

      So MUCH evidence has come out since the Warren report, and Douglass’s book is an excellent account of the key stuff. The fact that he is barred from the mainstream media testifies to the control exercised by the war profiteers.

      A devastating fact that is incontrovertible is that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by a gun 2 inches from the back of his head. This fact never came out at the trial, so most Americans are unaware of it. The implications of this incontrovertible fact are staggering. The background of this fact and its implications are described by forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht at 30:00 of this recent video from the CSPAN archives –

  4. Abe
    November 21, 2014 at 19:06

    “He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. ‘Ye shall know the truth,’ says Jesus, ‘and the truth shall set you free.’ Now, I’ve chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal…

    […] from Martin Luther King’s sermon “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”, spoken at Riverside Church in New York, on April 30th, 1967. As a small note:

    King was channeling John F. Kennedy when he cited Dante above. In 1963, when he was signing the charter that established the German Peace Corps in Bonn, West Germany, Kennedy remarked, “Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” This comment is probably based on a simplistic reading of the third canto of The Inferno.

    But since I’ve just slogged through the relevant part of Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Dante, I feel I can be petty enough to say that both King and Kennedy seem to have never picked up The Divine Comedy. In Dante’s vision of the underworld, it is traitors — not cowards or equivocators — who get it the worst. In Kokytos, the ninth and final circle of the underworld, there are four concentric rings, starting with Caina, for traitors to blood relatives (hence, “Cain”), and ending with Judecca, for those who are traitorous to their masters. I’ll let you infer the namesake of that circle. And one more thing, the punishment isn’t fire; it’s ice.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    November 21, 2014 at 17:10

    Ray, I doubt you confused high dudgeon with low dungeon, where most of the clandestine elements of the CIA belong. Perhaps, like me, your computer is broken. Making this comment is a monumental effort because my keyboard no longer types the letters marked on the keys. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – so I’m copying and pasting.

    When you really analyze the law, there are only three inviolable categories of “State Secrets”. Broadly, those include troop and ship movements, secret weapons technology and cryptology. Just about everything else anyone can name involves suborning perjury, intimidating witnesses, obstruction of justice, concealing evidence, pandering, extortion, bribery, blackmail, collusion, murder, treason, and, last but not least, that not infrequently and usually successfully prosecuted offense, CONSPIRACY to commit crime.

    You don’t have to take my word – any international or Constitutional law expert can tell you that ‘spying’ is illegal. So is destabilizing foreign governments. So is lying to Congress. So is blackmailing and bribing foreign diplomats in order to initiate war of aggression – the “Supreme International Crime”. But those things are exactly what our “clandestine services” have done. Sure, it’s easy to say that ‘spying’ is part of ‘ordinary statecraft’, and “every government does it”, so…what’s the big deal? Well, first, the ‘big deal’ is that IT’S ILLEGAL! But, there’s an even bigger deal.

    I recall watching that “Actor’s Studio” interview of George Carlin with John Lipton. He asked George something to the effect…”What advice do you have for young artists who may seek to confront some fundamental truth, but the language or the concept may be distasteful or offensive?”

    Whether you want to look at it from the point of view of ballistics evidence, fingerprint evidence, falsified eyewitness testimony, photographic evidence, chain of evidentiary custody, collusion between law enforcement agencies, falsified or destroyed documents, suppressed or ignored evidence, post-mortem evidence or just plain common sense, ANYBODY who has taken the time to look at it can come to only one conclusion.

    Even the un-redacted version of the ‘torture report’ will be a ‘whitewash’, we can be sure of that. Coordinating misinformation campaigns and ‘state crimes against democracy’ is what our “clandestine services” do – That’s who they are. “Classified Information” is a euphemism for “Incriminating Evidence”, plain and simple. In actual practice, if ALL “State Secrets” laws were abolished tomorrow, the country would not suffer one bit. But, we’d have lots more unemployed criminals.

    Ray, I love you like a brother. But none of this will change until we address the sentinel crime that set all this in motion. All the other issues are peripheral. John F. Kennedy was murdered by elements of the CIA, the organization he wanted to, “Break into a thousand pieces and scatter to the four winds”. Separating the analytical from the operational elements of the CIA would be akin to removing the prostitution from the extortion elements of the Mafia and expecting it to become morally sound. So, I would beseech you to consider the advice George Carlin gave to young artists. It’s a REALLY BIG DEAL. So, please take his advice: “Just f&@%ing say it”. They murdered our President, and JUSTICE demands that the organization should pay with its very existence.

    • Abe
      November 21, 2014 at 18:19

      George Carlin & JFK: Words of the Wise

    • Abe
      November 21, 2014 at 18:41

      Thank you, F.G.

      Yes, let’s just f&@%ing say it.

      The War OF Terror actually began in 1963 with the assassination of a U.S. President.

      The CIA has been at the heart of a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that has destroyed “the willingness of citizens of the United States to assume the burdens of leadership.”

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 22, 2014 at 00:35

      F.G. I am a sucker for any conversation about the JFK/MLK/RFK assassinations. As you already know from my previous posts, I feel that the JFK murder was the pivot point of our Republics experiment with democracy. It saddens me that new generations may never really understand how important these assassinations were to laying the ground work to what we are now living through. So, good to hear from you…buy a new I pad, but keep on posting, we need your input! Joe Tedesky

  6. Abe
    November 21, 2014 at 14:39

    Torturing “war on terror” suspects is a tactic. It one element of a “Global War OF Terror” strategy that has been deployed by the United States for over a decade.

    Focus on the tactic diverts attention from the strategy.

    Once we understand that the “War on Terror” has been the U.S. strategy for waging an aggressive war by covert means, then we recognize that routinely torturing “suspected terrorists” is a perfectly logical tactic.

    Torturing “terrorists” reinforces the image of a desperate “War ON Terror” when the reality is that the U.S. has been waging a dedicated “War OF Terror” in Iraq, in Syria, and most recently in Ukraine.

  7. Abe
    November 21, 2014 at 14:23

    Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception.

    A 14 November article in the Washington Post, “U.S. weighs expanded CIA training, arming of Syrian allies struggling against Assad,” claimed that “The latest setbacks came this month, when CIA-backed factions were routed by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s primary affiliate in Syria. Fighters with militias including Harakat Hazm — one of the biggest recipients of U.S. arms — fled positions in towns across northern Syria, with many leaving their weapons to be scooped up by al-Nusra.”

    The reality is that al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra and Harakat Hazm are all CIA-backed factions.

    The CIA and the Pentagon have created a perpetual revolving door of terrorist training and arms distribution to mercenary Islamic extremist militants in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and most recently in Ukraine.

    Nary a whisper of this business from ex-CIA analysts Pillar and McGovern.

    There is a hell of a lot more “reform” needed at CIA than determining whether employees’ desks should be located in this or that federal building.

    Any analyst or ex-analyst whose analyses fail to acknowledge the CIA’s deliberate training and arming of terrorists is lying.

    To revive the Gipper’s iconic phrase, “There you go again.”

    • Abe
      November 21, 2014 at 15:01

      Most of the Kiev junta fighting units are Ukrainian nationalist and neo-Nazi militants. However Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self Defense Organization (UNA-UNSO) members fought alongside Chechen forces during combat actions back in 2000-2001. This year, the Kiev junta recruited Chechen fighters to bolster its ranks during its “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine. Chechen snipers were identified in the Aidar Battalion, which receives support from Ihor Kolomoisky, the billionaire Ukrainian-Israeli dual national governor of Dnipropetrovsk.

    • Abe
      November 21, 2014 at 16:40

      In March 2013, John O. Brennan succeeded David Petraeus as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

      Brennan visited Ukraine in May 2014 to personally support the Kiev junta, then engaged in its “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine

      Brennan had served as chief counterterrorism advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama. His official title was Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President, and he met with the President daily. Previously, Brennan advised Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues during the 2008 presidential campaign and transition.

      Brennan withdrew his name from consideration for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the first Obama administration over concerns about Brennan’s support for the use of torture by the CIA under President George W. Bush. Instead, Brennan was appointed Deputy National Security Advisor, a position which did not require Senate confirmation.

      Brennan’s 25 years with the CIA included work as a Near East and South Asia analyst, as station chief in Saudi Arabia, and as director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

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